What is Huernia?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon
Some Huernia species are edible and have been used historically as a food source by indigenous people in Africa.
Some Huernia species are edible and have been used historically as a food source by indigenous people in Africa.

Huernia is a succulent genus native to Africa. These stem succulents produce large, bold, vivid flowers and a number of species are cultivated for use in gardens and as houseplants. There are around 60 species in this genus, and they are readily available through nurseries, catalogs, and trades with other gardeners. These succulents are often very hardy and can be a good choice for gardeners who are just starting to work with succulents.

These plants have foliage with a distinctive gray-green color and large teeth. The flowers are roughly bell shaped, with five large lobes, and come in an array of bright colors like red and orange with markings such as stripes and spots. The plants rely on flies for pollination and many of the flowers superficially resemble raw meat, in addition to producing a smell similar to that of carrion. The strength and precise composition of the smell varies from species to species.

Some Huernia species are edible and have been used historically as a food source by indigenous people in Africa, although they are not very flavorful. In ornamental gardens, the plants can be grown as specimen plantings, mixed with other succulents, and cultivated in containers. Because of the smell, it can be advisable to plan ahead when planting and consider the impact of the flowers on delicate noses; if possible, blooming plants can be visited to get an idea of the nature of the smell.

If the smell is not too bothersome, Huernia species make excellent houseplants, as they take to container gardening readily, thrive in bright indirect light, and usually do well in the climate of the home as long as a house is not too humid or too dry. The plants can be grown in mixed succulent containers or isolated on their own, depending on personal taste.

These plants like coarse, well-drained soil. Soil mixed with sand or small pebbles is a good choice. The plants should be allowed to dry out completely between waterings. If a Huernia begins to look stressed, it may be a sign of too much water or high humidity. While it is possible to kill the plants by failing to water enough, more commonly the plants simply do not bloom while stressed, and bounce back once given a little bit of support. Cuttings can be used for propagation, and it is important to allow Huernia cuttings to start to dry and scab over before planting them, as otherwise they will rot.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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    • Some Huernia species are edible and have been used historically as a food source by indigenous people in Africa.
      Some Huernia species are edible and have been used historically as a food source by indigenous people in Africa.